Every new arrival wants to know if they can survive or live well in Thailand on X thousand baht a month?

It's a difficult question because each person has different needs. However, the following surveys and figures are from teachers actually working here! How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on?. And after each case study, I've added comments of my own.

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Robert

Working in A suburb just outside Khorat

Monthly Earnings 35,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work through a decent agency at a Thai government school. My salary is 35,000 baht a month. I don’t do any extra work such as private students or online teaching. I could but I just don’t bother. I stretch the 35K salary as far as it will go.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I save about 10,000 - 15,000 baht of that salary but don’t really need to. I have a decent amount of savings that I could dip into in an emergency, but touch wood, so far those savings remain intact.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a tidy two-storey town-house in a tiny village about five kilometres outside Khorat and surrounded by forests and rice fields. It’s fairly basic but it has a small kitchen, two bedrooms (I use one as a store-room) and a bathroom. There is also an upstairs terrace / balcony where you can hang out washing. I pay 6,000 baht a month plus utility bills. For the amount of space I have, it feels like an absolute bargain.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I have my own scooter. That’s pretty much a necessity when you live where I do. I love riding my scooter through the countryside, especially in the early morning on the way to school, but it isn’t quite as much fun in the rainy season with the rain lashing down. But the teacher must get through! I spend about 500 baht a month on gas.

Utility bills

Electric and water come to barely 500 baht a month and I pay another 1,000 for internet and phone.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

Sometimes I cook at home using ingredients from the local market (well, actually it’s more of a roadside shack than a market) and I have breakfast and lunch at the school. A trip to McDonalds or KFC in Khorat is a once or twice a month treat. I bet I don’t even spend 3,000 baht a month on food. Yes – a hundred baht a day sounds about right. I can throw a decent meal together at home for half that. There are also a couple of roadside restaurants in the village that charge about 30 baht a dish if I fancy going out to eat instead of cooking at home.

Nightlife and drinking

Nightlife LOL. When it goes dark around these parts, you can’t see one foot in front of the other. Nightlife would be sharing a large bottle of beer with the village drunk outside the corner shop. So I tend not to bother. I’ll have the occasional beer at home but I’m not really a drinker.

Books, computers

I spend nothing on these. I download e-books for free.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

I lived and worked in Bangkok for five years and I grew to hate every second of it. The heat, the humidity, the traffic jams, the growing ‘un-Thainess’ of the place and a thousand other reasons. The more hours I worked and the more money I made (usually between 60 and 80,000 a month) the more miserable I became. Living in Bangkok became a kind of forced slavery. I knew I had to get out.

The game-changer was when an old pal from England retired to live in North-east Thailand, in a village very similar to the one I myself live in now. He had a house built and settled very quickly into Thai rural life. I went up to stay with him for a few days and instantly became envious of all that he had (and indeed didn’t have). His days consisted of long walks and leisurely bicycle rides. His evenings were spent chatting and improving his Thai with a friendly bunch of elderly locals over large bottles of Leo. I had known this guy a long time but I’d never seen him look so fit and healthy and at peace with himself. ‘I want some of this’ I thought. And I returned to Bangkok and drew up my escape plans. I was gone within a month.

I look back now and the five years in Bangkok feel like five wasted and unnecessary years. I love it out here in the sticks.I feel born again. I have a job that’s hardly what you would call demanding and I have all the free time I need. The money just doesn’t matter.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Out in the countryside, everything is cheap. I couldn’t choose one thing over another.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

In Bangkok, regadless of how much you earn, you can burn through it somehow. In rural Thailand, 20,000 is more than enough. 35,000 feels like a fortune.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Robert for I think one of the most thought-provoking cost of living surveys we've had.

Every time I venture into rural Thailand for a few days (especially the north) I return to Bangkok's concrete jungle and wonder what the hell I'm doing there. In fact if it wasn't for my wife's job and her family, I suspect we would move tomorrow. 

Many years ago, when I was an academic director of a language school, we won a contract with a government school in Mahasarakham Province to supply them with three full-time teachers. A quick show of hands in the staff-room and it wasn't difficult to find three willing souls who fancied swapping the city life for a straw hut out in the forest. 

Two months down the line I contacted the teachers to find out how they were settling in. One teacher was loving it. "I jog, I cycle, I play tennis, I go to bed early with a good book. I've never felt fitter in my whole life. And the school and students are fantastic!" 

The other two teachers begged me to bring them back to Bangkok. "There's nothing to do here. The boredom is slowly killing us" 

What they really meant was that there was no nightlife. Both these teachers had a reputation for enjoying a night on the sauce and perhaps the company of a lady or three. I knew they wouldn't last the pace.

To me that sums things up. You're either a city person or someone who can handle the quiet life in the country.


This cost of living section is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and we would love you to take part. Send us your cost of living surveys and tell us a little about your life in Thailand.


Graham

Working in Pathum Thani, near Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 60,000 baht in a good month

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I'm in my mid-fifties and supposedly semi-retired in Thailand but I made friends with a local school owner, offered to help her out by doing a few lessons to keep me busy, students liked me, and it unfortunately snowballed from there. Never make the mistake of telling people on your moobarn (housing estate) that you're an English teacher. I'll quote silly prices like a thousand baht an hour and they'll say 'when can you start?' My friendly face and harmless demeanour have definitely been my downfall.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I live relatively comfortably on 30K a month. If I have a big expense like a trip abroad or I need to replace the washing machine, I can dip into my savings.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I bought a two-bedroom, two-storey house several years ago with my Thai partner for about 3.5 million I think it was. Thankfully, the neighbors are all good people and the moobarn has maintained its standards. I just couldn't do condo living.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I have a little motorcycle for zipping around the moobarn. I put a few hundred baht in the tank each month and it's probably enough to go around the world twice.

Utility bills

The air-con is blasting from the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave so my electricity bill is usually around 3-4,000 (even more in the hot season) Water, phone, internet, Netflix and all that stuff comes to around another thousand.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

About 7,000 baht per month. I do that thing whereby you buy salads and fresh stuff from the local market and eat healthily for 3-4 days, then because I can't be bothered to go to the market twice in the same week, the last three days tends to be a diet of pot noodles and flaming hot Monster Munch.

Nightlife and drinking

I got the bars out of my system many moons ago. Wild horses couldn't drag me out for a night in Bangkok these days. Too many arseholes around. I do like a can of beer at home though and can sink three or four most nights. Shall we say 3-4,000 a month?

Books, computers

I find it hard to concentrate on a book and I'm getting more and more bored with the internet and the social media thing. Even my smartphone is five years old! How people can spend 30K on a bloody phone is beyond me!

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

It's perfectly fine. Sometimes I begrudge the number of hours I work but that's totally my fault for not being able to say no. Some of it isn't even English teaching. It's more like babysitting. I 'teach' a 6-year-old boy and his little sister twice a week and I'm holding up flashcards to teach them present continuous and running across the room to slap me on the head. "What's this man doing?" Slap! "That's right - he's swimming". Slap!
Sometimes on the motorcycle ride back to the house, my head is still stinging.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Anything that's labour intensive like having something cleaned or painted or chopped down.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

Even if I didn't have savings to fall back on, I would still say 50-60K is enough for Bangkok. You're not living the life of Reilly but you're more than surviving. I guess a big factor would be how much you spend on accommodation.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Graham. Your survey brought to mind a couple of teenagers I taught at my house for around 18 months in the late 90s. Every Sunday at 1.00pm I used to dread that doorbell ringing. The only reason I kept up the lessons was because I liked their father. He was a good man but his two kids were a complete waste of time. They would pinch each other under the table and giggle for the entire duration of a 90-minute lesson. I counted every single second until it was over. Never do private lessons just because the money is good!


Carl

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 150,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I set up an online company some years ago that pulls in around €5K a month, sometimes triple that. From that, I pay myself a salary.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

50,000 Baht.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I live in a rented one-bedroom condo with my girlfriend who is now unwell and isn’t able to work and pay 20K a month. It's a wonderful place that would cost thousands of dollars almost anywhere else in the world.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

Usually around 6K a month on Grabs around the city according to my financial app. That’s higher than I expected - much, much higher

Utility bills

4K a month, sometimes 2.5K if I remember to switch the bedroom AC off when I’m in the living room. I like the whole condo to feel cool for some reason

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

10K a month on groceries at Big C. Salad and veggies are quite expensive here. Probably another 4K at Max Value on bits when we need stuff

Nightlife and drinking

Ah yes, now we get into it. Probably 40K a month. Sometimes more. We both like (liked) to eat out and I enjoy wines (expensive here). As I don’t have much work to do I sometimes get pissed for 2 or 3 days in a row around lower Sukhumwit.

Books, computers

What’s kindle unlimited , 300 baht a month? Get a MacBook every 2 years or so through the business . Don’t see that as a personal expense. Probably around 2,000 baht more on various digital subscriptions , oh and TrueVision / Move etc

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Opulent. I don’t have to do much work-wise, maybe the odd call for an hour in a week. Sometimes not even that. My girlfriend and I and are now in our late 30s and both want to enjoy life now, raging against the dying of the light. Long term finances are fine, I've got a pension and she’s got inheritance. People keep advising me to invest in property, but as a good Marxist, I believe all property is theft.

Nobody in either of our families has ever lived “well” past their mid-60s. Most of her Thai family didn’t see 55

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Thai food, electric, renting, water, cleaners, etc

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

30K a month living in a 5K studio in Sutthisan, 1K electric, 400 baht internet, socialising locally. Aye, those were the days

Phil's analysis and comment

Carl, you don't say whether your 150,000 baht a month business is anything to do with English teaching or not - and Ajarn is a site for teachers. I know a bloke in the oil industry who earns a million baht a month and spends every weekend on the golf course with a bunch of mates who all earn a million baht a month. Do teachers want to read about him? Probably not. No disrespect.  


Sam

Working in Hanoi, Vietnam

Monthly Earnings 150,000 Baht (before tax)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

It is roughly 120,000 from my full time job (20 contact hours per week) and the rest I make doing IELTS examining (1,500 baht an hour). This may fluctuate depending on my motivation to do extra work but this is the average.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I usually save about 70-80,000 baht a month. Again this can go up or down depending on holidays etc. I try to get away once a month and have 9 weeks paid holidays so this can add up if I leave Vietnam. My annual flight home now costs 1300 USD roughly thanks to the recent increases.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I rent a really nice 85sqm, one-bedroom, top floor condo with stunning lake views in the main expat area of Hanoi. It costs 22,000 a month and that includes internet, Netflix, water and maid service once a week. I pay more than some others but for me I spend a lot of time at home and the area is very peaceful and with a good community of people with many great bars and restaurants all overlooking the lake.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I have a motorbike, so maybe 300 - 400 baht a month on fuel.

Utility bills

1,500 baht for electricity, I also pay an ironing lady to do all my clothes, that's about 350 baht a month.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

This can vary greatly, I have a cook who prepares home cooked meals for me to take to the office, I also use a meal plan service and order out a lot. I go to a restaurant once or twice a month I (I don't eat much local food as it isn't a touch on Thai food, so my expenses are more than if you went local or cooked for yourself). I would guesstimate about 350 baht a day so 10,000 a month?

Nightlife and drinking

I don't go out that much but a Saigon beer in my local bar is about 20 baht and a double vodka with coke is 60 baht. That's quite standard in the smaller local places but can double in more 'high end places'.

I also order crates of German IPA at a dollar a can and have them delivered. I buy some Jim Beam which is about 350 a bottle. Occasionally I'll go drink some craft beer somewhere in the old quarter, take the lady for some wine and some food or enjoy the stupidly cheap Beer Hoi outlets where you get a glass for about 15 baht I guess. The drinking culture here is amazing but can get expensive if you go into the old quarter and drink at the craft beer bars. Stay local and its very, very affordable. 6-8,000 a month depending where I go to drink and what I drink.

Books, computers

Books, maybe one a month. Computers, zilch, company laptop and an old chromebook I've had a few years now take care of all my computing needs. 300 baht?

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Extremely comfortable with no financial worries and 9 weeks holiday a year,

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Beer. mobile internet, fruit, travel. hotels and guesthouses. You can get a very nice 35sqm room with AC, pool, and marble floors with huge bathrooms for 10 USD a night in beautiful surroundings in main tourism beach resorts. Those prices disappeared from Thailand about 20 years ago. Go into the mountains and Vietnam is unrivalled for doing your own exploring by motorbike. Thats the best bargain in the country because the countryside is free! It's the best in Asia in my opinion and I've been all over it in the last 24 years.

Also, the friendliness and hospitality of the Vietnamese people is priceless. Thai people, while I love Thailand and lived there for 8 years, have become jaded with foreigners in my opinion. It just isn't the same vibe and often you are dealing with migrant workers from Burma or the Philippines, which is fine, but just not the same feeling as what it used to be when I lived there in the 2000's.

I last visited Thailand a year ago and found it to be really quite expensive. I was on 65k a month in Bangkok in 2007 and wouldn't want to have to try to live off that now if I wanted a comfortable lifestyle and to be able to save for the future.

Another thing that you don't have to worry about in Vietnam is visas and work permits. The process is relatively straightforward if you have a good HR dept in your company/school and then its a 2-year visa and no visits to immigration or any of the BS that comes with Thailand. And teachers are well respected and there isn't the 'farang' attitude towards them. Vietnam is open for business and progressive rather than the somewhat antiquated system and style that Thailand seems unwilling and unable to relinquish.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

In Hanoi you see many people paying 10,000 a month for small studio flats or doing house shares. If you eat local, drink local, do your own ironing :) and avoid flights outside of local Asian countries, I guess you can live off as little as 20-30,000 baht a month, though your average teaching gig will pay about 60-70k before tax, so it all comes out in the wash. It can be fun and an adventure but it isn't long term sustainable in my opinion. Find the right teaching gig and you can live the life you want and save well.

Life is about choices. You can live cheap in most cities if you really, really want to. If not, move to the sticks and your money will go further. It all depends what you want and how you want to live your life.

I shared a 4-bedroom house in Nonthaburi in 2000, paying 7K a month in rent between us in a lovely gated moobaan. I couldn't share a house now and that rent has probably gone up to 25K+ already. So things change.

Vietnam has its charms but it isn't for everyone. It's polluted and Vietnamese is an extremely difficult language (I speak Thai at A2.1 level and its helped me a little but the syntax here with the tones makes it so hard to learn)

However, all students who want to go to university, which is most of them, take the IELTS exam to get credits/points to add to their application. This means if you need help, just look for someone under 25 and they will normally be about band 6-6.5 / B2,1 ish.... failing that the locals love to get the old google translate out and do things that way. Are our days numbered as teachers? I hope AI will be like a calculator: we all use them but we still need to be able to do mental arithmetic. Let's hope so. Until then, I'll be in Hanoi....

Phil's analysis and comment

Nowadays, you often hear teachers say that Vietnam is the land of milk and honey compared to Thailand. Sam's survey certainly supports that opinion - an apartment with stunning lake views, a lady to come in and do the ironing, and of course a great salary to boot. Sounds amazing!  


Christopher

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 80,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

80K is my salary as the head teacher at a private school. With various investments and a property rental back in the UK, my total monthly income is actually around 150K but that's averaged out over a year because of course investments fluctuate. I should also add that I am coming up to retirement and this will be my last year in work.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I certainly don't spend all of my 80K salary and probably end up saving around 70-80K a month. My wife also earns around 80K as a manager at a large cosmetics company. That 'extra' income is handy, but she too is planning to retire so that we can value our free time and do more things together.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

We bought our own one-bedroom condo around ten years ago and managed to pay for it cash at the time, so we have no monthly rent to worry about. It's not the most luxurious of apartments and it isn't even the nicest area of the city, but we've been happy here. It does sometimes cross our minds to move up to something better but to be honest, we don't plan on being around that much in our retirement years. A property can sometimes be a bit of a millstone round your neck, always having to worry about someone to clean and keep an eye on the place if you're away for long periods.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I run my own car, which I change for a brand new one every 5 years. It's difficult to put a price on this but I suppose car repayments, petrol and repairs come to around 13,000 a month.

Utility bills

Electricity, water and various phone / internet packages come to just under 5,000 a month.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We do a big supermarket shop once a fortnight so that's 3,000 x 2 = 6,000 baht. We are very much a cook-at-home couple and organise our own meals. Although I probably cook 80% of my meals at home, my wife orders most of hers from a local company (around 50 baht a portion) I also order a lot of my stuff like shaving products and toiletries online and I'll often pop into 7-11 to spend 100-200 baht on bits and pieces. This must all come to 10,000 - 12,000 baht a month at least. It mounts up.

We don't eat out very often at all. We simply can't be bothered most of the time. Perhaps retirement will change that?

Nightlife and drinking

We don't go out to pubs anymore but I've always got some nice bottles of wine and a few craft beers in the fridge, so 5,000 a month.

Books, computers

I'm more of a TV watcher than a reader and I'm certainly not that much into technology so this is virtually nothing.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Excellent, but as you can see from above, I live well within my means. Then again, my wife and I have both worked jobs that require long hours and it's as if we haven't had time to spend it. That is all about to change!

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Thailand is a far more expensive place than when I arrived 25 years ago. I'm not sure anything is a bargain anymore. Oh, let's say the cost of repairing things like a faulty air-conditioner or a torn mosquito net. That's always ludicrously cheap to what you would pay in the west.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

If your partner is bringing in their own wage, you could live the kind of lifestyle I have on 60K easily, but you're not putting anything away for your retirement years, and for me that's the key because it's amazing how quickly it comes around. No expat wants to have to scrimp and save in their 'golden years' surely.

Anyway, our plan for 60 years and beyond is to spend, spend, spend!. We have no children, no one to leave the money to and my three siblings back in the old country are all far wealthier than I am. We plan to spend at least two months abroad each year and at least two months in another part of Thailand like Chiang Mai or Hua Hin. It's time to start enjoying the kind of life my wife and I have worked hard for. We're looking forward to it.

As a footnote, I'm an avid reader of these cost of living surveys and feel I need to mention health insurance as one of those horrible annual expenses. I've always opted for private health insurance cover and that currently costs me 75,000 baht a year. And it's only going to go in one direction I'm afraid.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you for such an interesting survey, Christopher. I wish you all the best for a long and happy retirement. A friend of mine, who is now 63 I think, refers to your sixties as 'the last guaranteed decade' and I completely agree with him. So many times I've seen people hit 70 or thereabouts and lose the energy and motivation to travel. I saw it in my own two parents. Make the most of the upcoming years and more importantly, enjoy your money!

Please send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and these surveys help and inspire a lot of other teachers. We'd especially love to hear from more Filipino teachers being as there are so many here and so many looking for teaching jobs. Where are you all?  

Just click the link at the top of the page where it says 'Submit your own Cost of Living survey' or click here. 


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